Photos by Tracy Thatcher for EDN
Farming for one’s own personal gain has been around for centuries. Ever since the days of the first settlements and “towns” in Ancient Mesopotamia began to arise, humans have cultivated the Earth around them in order to create the needs necessary to sustain their lives.
Unlike many have come to believe, urban farming has been around much longer than the rural agriculture system that has come to be seen as a standard in this modern day and age. In an interview with Bil of Eugene Backyard Farmer, Bil defined urban farming as,
“(Taking) traditional and rural farming practices, shrinking the various elements down to a small and manageable level, and then applying these techniques to an urban property”.
The distinguishing aspect of urban farming compared to rural/traditional farming is that urban farming takes place within city limits and in people’s backyards. Bil says that,
“Urban farms can be found in abandoned lots, common alleys, schools and churches, and most commonly in backyards.”
Urban farmers, as can be seen, can be very self-reliant and resourceful. These individuals use as much property as they can within a certain territory in order to grow their own means of sustenance. These farms can range from the average backyard of one person to a bigger plot of land that a community shares. Essentials that can be grown on these farms include fruits, vegetables, and livestock.
Despite all of its benefits, urban farming remains relatively unheralded and unappreciated throughout most of the United States. This is mainly due to people’s comfort level with going to the grocery store to buy products at a much cheaper and efficient cost. Instead of growing and raising products themselves, people have relied on grocery outlets to provide food and supplies for them at a relatively cost- and time-efficient rate. Though there are some supermarkets that rely solely on local agriculture, many more rely on large, rural farms to stock their inventory.
Many of these supermarkets have come under scrutiny by people throughout the nation because of the way they treat their products and expose their clientele to potentially dangerous substances. For those who come to question the way supermarkets handle their products, urban farming may present a viable option should they have the time and willingness to cultivate their own necessities. Bil says,
“Most urban farmers have their own reasons for backyard homesteading, but very few do it for economic gain. Most people want to be more connected to their food source or their communities.”
Many of the people who undertake urban farming do so in order to provide for themselves and their communities. These people are not seeking to make a huge profit. In fact, if urban farmers do have surplus, they are more likely to trade their products with another instead of sell them off for a greater profit. The sense of community in urban farming results leads to an industry that is really not too competitive. Bil explains that,
“Since most backyard homesteaders take up urban farming for their own personal gain, there really isn’t specific competition. Of course this means that I (the urban farmer) will be going to the grocery store less. I am taking away business from local, regional, and international farmers as well as from Market of Choice, Cappellas, and Safeway.”
Whether or not this will lead to controversy in the future, however, remains to be seen. It has been argued that should urban farming become the popular method of producing goods and products, companies like Market of Choice and Safeway would see a vast decline in business. The corporate structure of farming and agriculture would no longer be the most viable option in terms of producing the sustenance for a community.
One of the reasons that this situation is unlikely is because of the work required to foster the growth of the urban farm. Just like any farm, an urban farm takes a lot of time and dedication to be come sufficient enough to provide for a family or community. Bil says,
“A micro farm is still a farm and farm life can be tough. It takes time to tend to a garden, fruit trees, chickens, ducks, and bees.”
Though there are certainly “big” farming problems that occur at urban farms, Bil was also quick to point out that these problems are much more manageable as they occur on a much smaller scale. As for those who can undertake urban farming, Bil says that anybody that has the dedication and time to do so can participate in an urban farm. Bill states,
“The vast majority of urban farmers do this as a hobby. Many urban farmers are families with jobs and kids and other responsibilities. Tending to the backyard homestead is what you do after work and soccer practice.”
For those who want to make a profit as an urban farmer, Bil says that it may be more difficult and time consuming:
“To make money as an urban farmer, you are going to need to approach urban farming as a full time job.”
Anne Donahue, the Compost and Urban Agriculture Coordinator for the City of Eugene, prides herself on clearly communicated the city code to those, she says,
“That want to grow food and raise their own animals do so in a way that is responsive to the animals, sensitive to neighbors, and thoughtful of the environment.”
As documented by Donahue, the city of Eugene seems to be more than encouraging in creating the tools necessary for people to build their own urban farms. For instance, Ms. Donahue states,
“The three non-profits we provide direct support to are School Garden Project, OSU Extension in Lane County, and Partners for Sustainable Schools (PSS).”
Besides providing support to non-profit groups, the city of Eugene — through the Neighborhood Matching Grant Program — will provide funding for neighborhood gardens as long as they meet the requirements of the grant and satisfy concerns raised by different city departments, said Donahue. In terms of regulations surrounding urban farms in Eugene, Donahue made sure to reference the Urban Agriculture and Chickens in Eugene Fact Sheet that her department has available.
The document addresses such concerns as the types of farm animals allowed, the sanitation procedures for an urban farm, the fences that must be erected around an area, the location of an urban farm, and the allowed size of urban farms. More in-depth coverage of each of these issues can be found in Eugene’s City Code in Chapter 9, Land Use.
For all of the benefits that may come from urban agriculture, there are surely some drawbacks. One of the drawbacks is the start-up cost of an urban farm. Though the City of Eugene does give out grants to some farms, the typical farm is quite expensive to start. Not only does a person have to invest in the proper plot of land, one must also buy all the supplies necessary to cultivate the land (irrigation supplies, farm tools, etc.) as well as the actual crop and animals that are required to make the farm and actual farm.
While economic profits may be a little less in urban farming than in other areas of life, urban farmers continue to flourish in cities where they have enough room to grow their crops. Urban farmers have turned old, unused plots of land into places where they can raise healthy, local, and numerous crops that can be used directly by those cultivating the area.
Supermarkets and grocery stores are still the dominant option for obtaining the everyday essentials that people need. These places provide consumers with an efficient place to buy goods at mass quantities that do not require the consumer to do anything more than place them in a basket and swipe their credit card. Urban farms, however, offer consumers the ability to interact with their own food and products. Unlike grocery stores, urban farmers have a direct relation with their products and can grow them any way they want.
If you are unsure about whether or not urban farming is the right choice for you, places such as the Eugene Backyard Farmer provide educational opportunities as well as the resources to get you started on the right foot. For more information about urban farming, you can visit Eugene Backyard Farmer’s website at www.eugenebackyardfarmer.com or call the company at 541.485.3276.